Composers Datebook®

Short (but tough) Copland

Aaron Copland (1900 – 1990) — Short Symphony (Symphony No. 2) (San Francisco Symphony; Michael Tilson Thomas, cond.) BMG 68541

Composer's Datebook - November 23, 2021


download audio

November 23, 2021


On today’s date in 1934, after 10 intense rehearsals, the Orquestra Sinfonica de Mexico, conducted by the Carlos Chávez, gave the premiere performance of the Symphony No. 2 of the American composer Aaron Copland.

Copland’s Second was titled ‘The Short Symphony,” but there was a lot packed into its 15-minute duration. Said Copland, “The Short Symphony’s preoccupation is with complex rhythms, combined with clear textures. Sonority-wise, the most rhythmically complex moments have a certain lightness and clarity.”

“Shortly after its Mexican introduction,” recalled Copland, “the piece was announced for an American premiere by Leopold Stokowski with the Philadelphia Orchestra but was never given. A similarly announced performance by the Boston Symphony under Koussevitzsky was also cancelled. Both told me subsequently that they had announced performances because they had admired the work, but that the composition was so intricate from a rhythmic standpoint that they dared not attempt a performance within the allotted period.”

In 1937, Copland recast his “Short Symphony” as a chamber sextet, leaving the music fundamentally unchanged, but re-barring the score to make it less challenging for performers. It wasn’t until the 1980s, decades after its Mexican premiere, that Copland’s Symphony was performed by American orchestras in its original form.

Music Played in Today's Program

Aaron Copland (1900 – 1990) — Short Symphony (Symphony No. 2) (San Francisco Symphony; Michael Tilson Thomas, cond.) BMG 68541

On This Day


  • 1876 - Spanish composer Manuel de Falla, in Cádiz;

  • 1878 - French composer, conductor and arranger André Caplet, in Le Havre;

  • 1928 - American musical composer Jerry Bock, in New Haven, Conn.;

  • 1933 - Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, in Debica;


  • 1585 - English composer and organist Thomas Tallis, age c. 80, in Greenwich; This date is not certain (Nov. 20 is also cited as a possibility);


  • 1834 - Berlioz: "Harold in Italy," by the Paris Conservatory Orchestra, with Narcisse Girard conducting and Chrétien Urhan the soloist;

  • 1850 - George Loder: overture, "Marmion," composer conducting Philharmonic Society of New York;

  • 1867 - Brahms: Ballad No. 1 ("Edward"), from Op. 10, in Vienna;

  • 1890 - Dvorák: Piano Quartet No. 2 in Eb, Op., 87, in Prague;

  • 1899 - Dvorák: opera "The Devil and Kate," in Prague;

  • 1921 - Janácek: "Kátya Kabanová," in Brno at the National Theater;

  • 1928 - Daniel Gregory Mason: "Chanticleer (Festival Overture)", in Cincinnati;

  • 1931 - Bartók: ballet, "The Wooden Prince," in Budapest;

  • 1934 - Copland: "Short Symphony" in Mexico City, by the Orquestra Sinfonica de Mexico, with Carlos Chávez conducting; Subsequent scheduled performance by the Philadelphia Orchestra and Boston Symphony had to be cancelled, as the work was considered too difficult to prepare in the available time;

  • 1940 - Shostakovich: Piano Quintet in g, in Moscow, by the Beethoven Quartet, with the composer at the piano;

  • 1963 - Daniel Pinkham: Symphony No. 2 in Lansing, Michigan;

  • 1985 - Michael Torke: “Bright Blue Music,” at Carnegie Hall in New York, by the New York City Youth Symphony, David Alan Miller conducting;


  • 1885 - Austro-Hungarian conductor Anton Siedl, a Wagner protégé, makes his American debut conducting "Lohengrin" at the Metropolitan Opera in New York;

  • 1903 - Italian tenor Enrico Caruso debuts at New York's Metropolitan Opera in Verdi's "Rigoletto"; He would sing a total of 607 performances with the Met, the last occurring on December 24, 1920 (an evening performance of Halevy's "La Juive");